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Monday, December 13, 2010

The Shrinking of Detroit.

Here is Detroit's problem, in a nutshell:



There simply aren't the people in what was once one of the country's greatest cities.

Did you know that Detroit came within an ace of getting the 1964 and 1968 Olympic Summer Games?

Now, she's less than half the size she used to be. If the 2010 Census shows the City to have a population north of 800,000, I'll be stunned. And dubious.

The mayoral administration has recognized the obvious, and is looking to reconcentrate the population in the viable areas (i.e., closer to Downtown or the viable neighborhoods along the borders with the suburbs).

More than 20% of Detroit's 139 square miles could go without key municipal services under a new plan being developed for the city, with as few as seven neighborhoods seen as meriting the city's full resources.

Those details, outlined by Detroit planning officials this week, offer the clearest picture yet of how Mayor Dave Bing intends to execute what has become his signature program: reconfiguring Detroit to reflect its declining population and fiscal health. Yet the blueprint still leaves large legal and financial questions unresolved.

Until now, the mayor and his staff have spoken mostly in generalities about the problem, stressing the need for community input and pledging to a skeptical public that no resident would be forced to move.

But the approach discussed by city officials could have that effect. Mr. Bing's staff wants to concentrate Detroit's remaining population—expected to be less than 900,000 after this year's Census count—and limited local, state and federal dollars in the most viable swaths of the city, while other sectors could go without such services as garbage pickup, police patrols, road repair and street lights.


I imagine there would have to be the occasional show of police force within the abandoned zones, though--otherwise, Very Bad Things are certain to be cooked up there.

Jeff Culbreath asked me on Facebook what could be done to reverse the situation, and suggested homesteading--focusing on bands of enterprising Catholics reclaiming (and sustaining) neighborhoods. I didn't answer because I wasn't sure how to respond.

Certainly the only thing that will save the City are more people--lots more people. But the only way you will get homesteaders in is if there is some level of independence afforded to the would-be settlers. By that I mean some liberty from the dead hand of bureaucracy which has helped to create this unprecedented American nightmare in the first place. Imagine trying to homestead in Permit Purgatory, red tape bidding fair to strangle the effort in its cradle. You'd have to pass something like the old Homestead Acts to carve through the inevitable problems.

But at this desperate hour, out of the box solutions are the ones that need to be tried.

12 comments:

Art Deco said...

This may be repetitive but...

Per the U.S. Census Bureau, the 'urbanized area' of Detroit had in it 3.9 million people, of which about a quarter were within the administrative limits of the central city. Your problem likely has two dimensions: the relative or absolute decline of the metropolitan settlement and redistribution of population within that settlement.

One difficulty you have with local government in metropolitan areas in the northern United States (since the demise of municipal annexation) is that you have jagged geographic variation in the propensity to consume or benefit from certain public services. The responsibility to provide the services is vested in municipalities whose boundaries were fixed when the urban settlement was much smaller and when portions now covered in tract development were peri-urban zones, small towns, or countryside. Often this propensity to consume or benefit is inversely correlated with the tax base of the municipal unit in question.

Here is a suggestion for some institutional changes by the State of Michigan which might be of aid to Greater Detroit:

1. Enact a constitutional amendment which will allow for the erection of a local authority for the whole metropolitan settlement.

a. The existing municipalities (less those with fewer than 2,500 inhabitants) would be constituted as boroughs and would be the default service providers.

b. The elected municipal councillors, proceeding by weighted voting, could meet in an annual conference to consider amendments to the statute of the metropolitan authority - in effect deciding to delegate or rescind delegations to the central authority. Subsidiary conferences could be held periodically if you had an intermediate layer of government as well (for example, the existing counties).

2. At the very least, vest the metropolitan authority with two functions whose utility varies a great deal geographically: the police department and the foster care apparat. (Likely useful to have the arterials and the public transit system maintained by this authority as well).

3. Reconstitute the schools as philanthropies governed by trustees elected by locally resident alumni. Regulate their accounts severely (prohibiting them from charging tuition, for example), pass out vouchers to parents to finance the schools, and hold semesterial regents' examinations at all levels for quality control. Do not regulate their admissions or disciplinary standards or curriculum (beyond compliance with penal codes and safety ordinances), just have an annual winnowing of the schools at the bottom of the league tables. Have the Sheriff's departments establish schools for youngsters who cannot get a birth in the philanthropic system (i.e. incorrigibles).

4. Consider replacing property taxes with a simple flat levy on personal income. That will remove much of the incentive to abandon property.

Art Deco said...

5. Replace earmarked grants to county and municipal government with general revenue sharing, with allotments distributed according to population and per capita income. A depressed area such as central Detroit would have a larger increment to execute its residual functions.

6. Allow public employees at all levels to form small benevolent associations to purchase insurance, purchase the services of labor lawyers, and administer pensions. Do not allow them collective bargaining.

7. Improve the quality of the civil service in two ways: by requiring that nearly all positions be filled by examinations administered within 60 days of a vacancy and by allowing civil servants to be terminated at the discretion of their supervisor once-removed. Set up an ombudsman and investigatory apparat to undertake rapid review of firing decisions and protect whistle-blowers.

8. Public expenditure is meant to enhance public order, construct public works, maintain certain amenities, and to make for common provision of certain services. Recall, however, that (all things being equal) more public expenditure means less economic dynamism. There is a considerable (and, one suspects, inconclusive) literature on the makings of regional development. Good schools, well-maintained public works, and comparatively small public sectors are helpful.

9. With regard to the government of Detroit's central city, have them dedicate themselves to picking up the trash, maintaining the streets, sandblasting the graffiti off the sides of buildings, clearing abandoned property, maintaining the parks and street trees, and granting variances that will allow private developers to expand the variety of housing options available. Bring in William Bratton to run a unified sheriff's department covering the whole metropolis. Let the individual schools run themselves and serve whichever clientele they wish.

Suburbanbanshee said...

Re: replace property taxes with a personal income tax --

That's a good way to make sure that everybody who's left will move out of Detroit. Especially since Detroit performs no services for its residents, on the whole.

(Well, okay, maybe not the people on welfare. Or the people who just deal drugs or perform illegal economic acts that aren't reported as income.)

But yeah, I wouldn't live in my town if it had a personal income tax, since I'm an apartment dweller and don't want to lose any more of my income to tax than I already do.

Art Deco said...

Suburban banshee,

The economic burdent of a tax differs from its manifestation in accounting. In the latter, the responsibility for paying the tax lies with the property owner. However, because the tax is a cost of providing rental housing, it effects the supply schedule and thus the price of it. If you take off the property tax, the rent will be lower than it otherwise would be. The distribution of burdens between landlord and tenant will depend on the elasticity of supply and demand for rental housing.

Again, my suggestion was that the responsibility for the provision of public services be re-distributed to the appropriate levels of government. Cash doles are not a municipal service. Picking up the garbage and pruning the street trees are municipal services. Given that core cities are generally comparatively impecunious, a general subsidy out of county or metropolitan funds should suffice to see to it that levies on incomes are no worse than they are elsewhere in the metropolitan settlement (provided, of course, that city employees pick up the garbage and prune the street trees).

S.M. Stirling said...

Incidentally, by the end of this century populations will probably be declining swiftly almost everywhere, so Detroit is a prefigurement of Tokyo in 2050 or Shanghai in 2080 or Cairo in 2090.

Art Deco said...

For the record, the sum of the population of the six counties in which Greater Detroit currently nestles has been as follows:

1960: 3,951,680
1970: 4,433,390
1980: 4,355,393
1990: 4,250,549
2000: 4,454,807
2009: 4,405,046

That rather looks more like stasis than decline. The United Auto Workers has lost about 2/3 of its working membership in the last 30 years. That is a demographic implosion. I think it also suggests that Detroit has experienced most of what it will experience in the form of an economic headwind derived from the restructuring of American manufacturing over the last generation.

The CIA World Factbook puts the total fertility rate of the following countries at the following:

Japan: 1.2
China: 1.54
United States: 2.06
Egypt: 3.01

(Other sources also use higher figures). Japan has had severely depressed fertility for about a generation now. These numbers could change, but I am not sure why you are so confident that the Japanese experience is going to be replicated in these other locales.

S.M. Stirling said...

I am not sure why you are so confident that the Japanese experience is going to be replicated in these other locales.

-- worldwide trends. The world TFR was around 6 when I was born in 1953 and dozens of "high" fertility countries were in the 7-9 range.

Today there are only two or three remote and very backward countries above 7 and the world average is about 2.5

More than half of the -total- population of the world now lives in countries with sub-replacement fertility and the percentage is growing very rapidly. Large areas are already experiencing natural population decline; whole continents, in fact.

Japan's TFR dropped below 2.1 (replacement level) in the 1950's, China in the early 1980's, and by now every counry in East Asia is below 2.1, often well below -- South Korea's is around 1.2, for instance, as is Taiwan's. The "higher" fertility countries like Vietnam and Thailand are in the 1.7 range but falling.

Urban TFR's in China (and more than half of Chinese are now urban) are well below the national average; around 1, in fact, incredibly low. And that's where the rest of the country is moving.

Over any length of time, a fertility rate in the "lowest low" range, around or close to 1, means a 50% drop in the population every generation. Geometric progression works the same both ways. Up closer to replacement level it's slower but also gains speed over time.

The story elsewhere is similar. Morocco was around 7 only a generation ago; it's now 2.2 something. Algeria and Tunisia are below 2 and still dropping.

On current trends -- that is, assuming the direction and rate of change remains much the same -- the world TFR will drop below replacement level in the next decade.

World population will top out between 8 and 9 billion sometime after the middle of the century and then stall, and then begin to fall -- slowly at first, then faster and faster, just as the "population explosion" worked but the other way 'round. The absolute number of children born yearly on a global basis has been dropping for some time.

This means that the global population is aging; more and more of each year's population growth is due to longer lifespans.

China's median age is already about the same as that of the US, and rising much faster.

In large areas not only are crude birthrates now much lower and still falling, but there are additional factors like gender imbalances (120:100 in chunks of China and India) which exacerbate the situation.

S.M. Stirling said...

There are other interesting worldwide demographic changes.

For example, most areas traditionally have had near-universal marriage at fairly early ages. West Europeans and their descendants didn't, but that's another story.

Ages at marriage have been skyrocketing in country after country; up over 10 years in Egypt, for example.

And the percentage of people who never marry is also increasing in those countries, which was traditionally unheard of especially for women. This is causing severe social strains.

The enormous scale of sex-selective abortion and infanticide in China and India is also a function of what happens when a very strong son preference hits unprecedentedly low fertility rates. Which in turn means a generation of young men where over 10% -can't- marry; there just aren't any women of the same or similar age cohorts.

Throw in that rapid changes in fertility do odd things to the population profile. We had a mild example here with the Boomer generation, which slid through the population profile like a puppy through a python.

It's much worse where the changes are bigger and more abrupt. Our fertility rate went from a little less than 2 during the 30's to about 3.6 at the peak of the Baby Boom in the late 50's down to around 1.7 in the 80's and then gradually increased again to a little over 2 in the last decade.

China's went from around 6 in the q1960's to less than 2 in the 1980's and then to very low levels more recently.

That leaves a huge bulge -- hundreds upon hundreds of millions - of people born before Ronald R. became President of the US, who're now hitting middle age. Soon they'll retire.

The succeeding generations are all smaller.

You get a situation where four grandparents and two parents produce one grandchild.

That grandchild is born into a world where his (and it's more likely to be a 'he') has no blood relatives that aren't a generation older than he is.

A world without brothers, without sisters, without cousins, with very few aunts or uncles. And in the next generation, virtually no aunts or uncles because these are kids without siblings. A world in which the average person is middle-aged or older.

There have been population declines before in history, but I doubt -any- large group has had a profile like that. The consequences will be interesting.

Art Deco said...

You included the United States, which has never had a problem with sub-replacement fertility, bar for a few years in the 1970s and a few years during the Depression.

The following countries have shown improved total fertility rates over the last 15 years. Some are currently above replacement levels and some not:


Spain
Italy
Belgium
Slovenia
Netherlands
United Kingdom
France
Greece
Finland
United States of America
New Zealand
Ireland
Australia
Norway
Barbados
Iceland
Austria
Canada

I want you to explain to me why it is correct to extrapolate uncritically from recent trends in underdeveloped countries (given that the phenomenon of 'fertility transition' is well known) and why the Japanese experience with sustained depressed fertility is to be regarded as the future mode and the American experience of sustainable population is not. Please be succinct.

S.M. Stirling said...

"You included the United States, which has never had a problem with sub-replacement fertility"

-- actually we have sub-replacement fertility right now; 2.06

Up until the 1980's, US fertility rates tracked NW Europe quite closely. Since then our TFR has increased, but only rather modestly. About 1/3 of this is due to immigration from higher-fertility countries. Without that, we'd be at about 1.9

We're certainly better off than the Chinese or Japanese, but that's scarcely a baby boom.

S.M. Stirling said...

>The following countries have shown improved total fertility rates over the last 15 years.

>Spain

-- currently 1.47; this isn't an improvement, it's a minor fluctuation.

Almost all of which is probably due to immigration; there are over 3 million Latin Americans in Spain now, for example.

Lots of Ecuadorians and Columbians and so forth.

>Italy

-- currently 1.32(!); and also a high recipient of immigration.

>Belgium

-- currently 1.65

>Slovenia

-- currently 1.29(!)

Netherlands

-- currently 1.66

And so forth and so on. There are minor year to year fluctuations; it's significant changes over time that matter. Note that the countries, like Slovenia, which are -not- major immigration recipients remain firmly in the lowest-low category.

>and why the Japanese experience with sustained depressed fertility is to be regarded as the future mode

-- because it's more common. The Japanese went first; the Chinese have followed; the Koreans have followed, and so forth and so on.

Why do urban East Asians -consistently- have lowest-low fertility rates, in the 1 to 1.4 range? They do in Japan, they do in Korea, they do in Taiwan, they do in Singapore, they do in Thailand, they do in Hong Kong, they do in mainland China.

Once may be coincidence, twice may be happenstance, but at this point you're seeing a larger pattern.

Immigration from higher-fertility countries can push rates up for a while, but the higher-fertility countries themselves have declining TFR's.

For example, Mexico had twice the TFR of the US as recently as a generation ago.

It's currently 2.31, only slightly higher than that of the US, and will probably be -below- that of the US fairly soon on current trends.

And living in the same environment ultimately produces the same behaviors anyway. There's just a bit of a lag between people born in LA and people who migrate to LA.

>and the American experience of sustainable population is not.

-- an odd request, since innumerable long books have been written on the subject, but I'll give it a shot:

America is exceptional.

To take a type of exceptionality relevant to the present discussion, Americans are probably among the most religious people on earth, and certainly in the Western world. This significantly affects behavior.

People who attend church once a week in the US average over 3 children; as high as the height of the Baby Boom.

Americans who never go to church average around 1, as low as the lowest on earth.

If the Germans were suddenly to become fervent Lutherans and Catholics again, it would almost certainly push their birth rates up sharply.

But that's about as likely as mass abuduction by Alien Space Bats.

S.M. Stirling said...

>The following countries have shown improved total fertility rates over the last 15 years.

>Spain

-- currently 1.47; this isn't an improvement, it's a minor fluctuation.

Almost all of which is probably due to immigration; there are over 3 million Latin Americans in Spain now, for example.

Lots of Ecuadorians and Columbians and so forth.

>Italy

-- currently 1.32(!); and also a high recipient of immigration.

>Belgium

-- currently 1.65

>Slovenia

-- currently 1.29(!)

Netherlands

-- currently 1.66

And so forth and so on. There are minor year to year fluctuations; it's significant changes over time that matter. Note that the countries, like Slovenia, which are -not- major immigration recipients remain firmly in the lowest-low category.

>and why the Japanese experience with sustained depressed fertility is to be regarded as the future mode

-- because it's more common. The Japanese went first; the Chinese have followed; the Koreans have followed, and so forth and so on.

Why do urban East Asians -consistently- have lowest-low fertility rates, in the 1 to 1.4 range? They do in Japan, they do in Korea, they do in Taiwan, they do in Singapore, they do in Thailand, they do in Hong Kong, they do in mainland China.

Once may be coincidence, twice may be happenstance, but at this point you're seeing a larger pattern.

Immigration from higher-fertility countries can push rates up for a while, but the higher-fertility countries themselves have declining TFR's.

For example, Mexico had twice the TFR of the US as recently as a generation ago.

It's currently 2.31, only slightly higher than that of the US, and will probably be -below- that of the US fairly soon on current trends.

And living in the same environment ultimately produces the same behaviors anyway. There's just a bit of a lag between people born in LA and people who migrate to LA.

>and the American experience of sustainable population is not.

-- an odd request, since innumerable long books have been written on the subject, but I'll give it a shot:

America is exceptional.

To take a type of exceptionality relevant to the present discussion, Americans are probably among the most religious people on earth, and certainly in the Western world. This significantly affects behavior.

People who attend church once a week in the US average over 3 children; as high as the height of the Baby Boom.

Americans who never go to church average around 1, as low as the lowest on earth.

If the Germans were suddenly to become fervent Lutherans and Catholics again, it would almost certainly push their birth rates up sharply.

But that's about as likely as mass abuduction by Alien Space Bats.